'Internal Communications'- What you need to know!
‘Communicating’, sounds simple and like something that should come naturally. Especially to thoughtful, dedicated smart people like ourselves. 😊 The irony is that poor internal communications is often one of the root causes of organizational disfunction. And if not a cause, then certainly a magnifier.
Communications planning and implementation is usually one of the last places many leadership teams invest time and resources into, instead relying on team members, executive assistants, or even the HR department to just build it into their day-to-day duties. Not surprisingly then, they reap what they sow. Inconsistent messages, confusion, gaps in vital information, and frustrated people. Both those who are on the receiving end and those who are expected to just add it to their existing responsibilities, with no specific training, experience, or plan to follow. (Toss in a pandemic’s worth of exhaustion and uncertainty and the bog becomes even harder to cross.)
What you need to know is that communicating effectively with your teams can be done well if you have two key ingredients:
1. A well thought out strategy and plan of action, and
Each piece is equally important. If you have a great plan, but you don’t have the discipline to work the plan, it’s a bust. If you’re disciplined, but the plan isn’t strategic or is incomplete, the correct information will not find its way to the right people when they need it.
Start by Determining your Goals and Objectives
If you need to figure out how to put a plan in place to get information to your people, begin by determining what your overall goal is. Do they need to know about an organizational restructuring, a change in how they will deliver their services, or do their work, a market shift? Whatever the purpose of your communications, be able to clearly articulate it. And then identify the why and be able to articulate that. Is the issue tied to a strategic plan, and if so, how? And why is that important for them to know? There could be more than one reason, just make sure that you get them clear and down on paper. These become your ‘objectives’.
Take an honest look at the current state of how communications happen within your group. Is it ad hoc? Does info come out in a monthly email from one source? However it happens or doesn’t happen, try to get a distinct picture. This assessment will help you strategically focus on how you can improve what’s not working or build on what is. Is information coming out in a timely fashion, is there a lack of clarity, is it relevant to the audience? All important questions to ask so you be as strategic as possible.
The other factor to consider is how your communications plan may align with others already happening within your organization. If you have conflicting messages being shared with common audiences, it could become very confusing, so it’s important to review who is being told what and when and ensure that the key messages within different initiatives are aligned, clear, and supportive of one another.
Identify Your Audience and What they Need to Know
Okay, so you’ve got your goal and objectives and your strategy. Now you need to clearly identify who your audience or audiences are. There could be subsets within a larger group. The important piece about this is figuring out the correct key messages for each group of people. Who needs to know what. Refer back to your goals and objectives when you’re drafting these to ensure they are relevant.
Build Your Action Plan
This is where you take all the info above and put it into a timeline. What information goes to which audience, when, how, and from whom. This becomes your tactical plan, and it will have all the information in it that you need to accomplish your communications goals and objectives strategically. At a glance, you should be able to tell what people know already, or what they will know in the future because it’s all there and organized linearly. The other important thing about the tactical plan is that it enables accountability because you can see who is assigned what task.
Nothing too mystifying here, right? The success of this process involves taking the time to thoughtfully answer the questions and proactively design how you will implement things. Just remember, communication is never a one-and-done activity. It’s a marathon because we humans don’t necessarily absorb or remember things that easily, especially when there is so much competition for our attention. This is where the discipline comes in. You need to ensure you build multiple exposures into your tactical plan and then follow through and work your plan. If you give up partway through or revert back to previous bad habits, your success will be in jeopardy and all the good work you’ve done will be wasted. But, if you are committed and disciplined, you’ll be developing new and effective habits, as well as trust with your audiences that will help to reinforce future messages you need to share.
One last thought…this is a framework that you can certainly adapt and develop yourself or with your team if you have the will and the capacity. If you decide to take this approach, one of the options you can consider is contracting an experienced senior communications specialist to guide you through the process the first time to ensure you’re covering all the bases. What they have that you may not, is plenty of hard-earned experience in what works well, what doesn’t, where the pitfalls may be and the tricks of the trade that can increase your chances of success. That wisdom is invaluable and can help you and your team develop skills that will make life much easier when it comes to keeping everyone in the loop.